Our Top Ten Books for Writers

Books for writers - Where do you start?

by Victoria Bennion

There are so many great books for writers out there. I’ve learnt something valuable from each and every one of the books on this list. The first I read was Stephen King’s On Writing. The others I’ve read over the last three years, most of which have come highly recommended by tutors at conferences or writer friends. 

1.       On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Start here. Right here. If you’re taking your first steps into the world of writing you absolutely have to read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Stephen King, one of today’s most successful writers, shares anecdotes from his life and writing journey (some of which will make you laugh out loud.) And most importantly he imparts invaluable advice about writing and talks about his own approach to the craft. Advice you’ll come back to again and again. This is one of the best books for writers.

2.       Story by Robert McKee

Story is a weighty tome, a bible, which deserves a place on your shelf. It’s not just for screenwriters. Story is as useful for novel writers as it explores the art of storytelling. I won’t kid you. It’s not a light read. You may need to re-read sections to really understand what Robert McKee is trying to say but Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting is broken up with scenes from films which McKee analyses which helps understand the subject.

3.       Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass

Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling was recommended to me by the vivacious editor Emma Greenwood about three years ago. This book is brilliant for upping your game. Donald Maass is an American Literary agent who has vast experience of the book market. He explains why some novels become bestsellers and techniques for making an impact with your own writing.

4.       Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

In 2013 I attended a workshop by screenwriter Julian Unthank at the Winchester Writers’ Conference. Julian gave us a reading list and Save the Cat! was at the top, for good reason. The author, Blake Snyder, is a showbiz veteran who knows what he’s talking about. He breaks down structure, looks at genre, loglines and pitches. I’ve referred to this book so much. As with Story, the principles in Save the Cat work well for novel writing.

5.       Into the Woods by John Yorke

John Yorke is a television producer responsible for overseeing a ton of British television at the BBC and Channel 4. His book, Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them recommended to me when I joined the Golden Egg Academy, reveals the unifying shape of narrative which applies as much to television as films and novels. It’s clear and easy to understand with lots of examples. Into the Woods will teach you how to structure a book in five acts rather than three – and tell you why that’s a good thing.

6.       Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Becoming A Writer is one of the classic books for writers. It’s the oldest book on this list, written in 1934, but it’s still so relevant today. Dorothea Brande understands what it’s like to be a writer. She abhors all the negativity that puts writers off writing (ever come across any of that?) She’s an empowering coach who cheers you on, showing you how to live as a writer. Brande is essential reading if you’re at the beginning of your journey as a writer.

7.       Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

The wonderfully generous children’s author Sarah Mussi recommended Stein on Writing to me in a Twitter chat when I was about to begin editing my WIP. If you’ve read through your first draft with a sinking feeling and identified a number of areas that need to be addressed reach for Stein. It’s packed with practical tips to make your writing sparkle.

8. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is another useful tool to have to hand as you edit your work. Follow the advice from Browne and King to polish your work so that an agent or publisher will look at it twice. Self-editing for Fiction Writers includes exercises and checklists to help you along the way.

9.       Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you’ve lost the faith then you must read Big Magic, Dear One. Elizabeth Gilbert inspires readers to live creatively, sharing anecdotes from her own life and her thoughts on understanding creativity. She shares some unique perspectives which will make you ponder and hopefully motivate you to get back to it. I found this one of the most inspirational books for writers.

10.       Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I listened to the audio recording of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within n which Natalie feels like an old friend, encouraging you to write. If you’re having trouble getting started then you need to read this book. Natalie advocates free writing every day and she suggests topics to write about to get you going. Never again will you struggle with writers’ block.

Have we missed any?

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